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Saban creates prod’n arm

Indie production outfit Saban Entertainment has formed Libra Pictures, a film and TV production banner that will tap into the marketplace of direct-to-video fare. The arm also intends to deliver features for domestic theatrical release.

Using a $ 50 million combination of war chest and co-venture funds to finance a first-year slate of 12 to 15 projects, Libra will focus on producing high-quality genre specific films — thrillers and action-adventures — with internationally known casts.

Most titles will be earmarked for direct-to-video release, while some will be shopped to major studios for theatrical release. Budgets are expected to be in the $ 3 million-$ 5 million range.

“We’re going to try to have as broad a commercial slate as possible,” said Lance R. Robbins, who segues to president of Libra from his post as senior VP of motion pictures and TV at Saban. “Our goal is to put the best possible stars available into the films. We won’t cast someone who’s incredible in Italy but unknown elsewhere. We’ll look for that broad appeal.”

The Libra banner was created to differentiate product from Saban’s, which is primarily aligned with children’s animated and live-action film and TV productions.

Libra will deliver projects aimed at older audiences, just as Disney formed Touchstone Pictures in an effort to distinguish films from its stock-and-trade G-rated offerings.

“We became tired of making money for everyone else,” said Robbins. “Now the films will be made by us, sold by us, and we’ll control all of the rights.”

Robbins points to the increase in interest by the majors in the direct-to-video marketplace as the impetus for launching Libra. Robbins noted that MCA/Universal’s “Darkman II” was a project designed to go directly into homes. Disney’s “The Return of Jafar” is also a made-for-video feature.

Libra also has established Libra Home Entertainment, which will serve as the homevideo distribution arm for its releases. The company also will acquire product, releasing it domestically through A*Vision Entertainment.

Features slated for international theatrical, homevid and TV release will be funneled through Saban Intl.

Libra’s first release will be “Blindfold,” with Shannen Doherty and Judd Nelson. The film’s unrated version, featuring the tempestuous actress in the nude, has been the subject of tabloid fodder. The film, written and directed by Lawrence Simeone, is set for a July release.

The second project wrapped is “Edge of Deception,” a Mariel Hemingway/Jennifer Rubin-starrer that is on the boards for an early fall release.

On the TV side, the first TV movie about the Menendez murders will bow from the new banner. “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders,” starring Jill Clayburgh, James Farentino and Susan Blakely, will hit the small screen in June.

Libra has completed production on six films; two are in principal photography and six others are in various stages of development.

David Goodman, Saban’s senior veep of domestic distribution, also will oversee all sales and marketing activities for LHE.

Initially flying solo in Libra, Robbins anticipates a pair of staff additions , creating a post for a director of development and acquisitions as well as a TV veep.

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